Online petitions show we care or not?

This is a bit of a giggle. A likely lad – allegedly of course- working for an Australian union (themselves historically hotbeds of iniquity) set up a fake page on Facebook concerning Black Lives Matter. Then started asking for donations. So far, so likely lad. But it appears that the fake page is twice as popular as the real one:

A high-ranking Australian union official has been suspended amid reports he ran a fake Black Lives Matter Facebook page that solicited donations from the movement’s supporters.

CNN reports that Ian MacKay – an official with the National Union of Workers – helped set up and run a Facebook page called Black Lives Matter as well as other domain names linked to black rights.

The page, which was removed by Facebook after CNN’s queries, had almost 700,000 followers – more than double the official Black Lives Matter page.

So far just a giggle about a likely lad.

Except this runs smack into that economists’ favourite distinction between expressed preferences and revealed. Or Bryan Caplan’s repeated insistence that votes are cheap – presumably Facebook likes are even cheaper.

The nub here being that it’s damned easy to get people to click on something. He’s rather proved that, hasn’t he? We can amass large totals, hundreds of thousands, quite simply. Politicians then react – Dear God, that’s hundreds of thousands of votes out there for the taking, people are serious about this! Except, of course, they’re not. The cheapness of those likes means that it’s not actually an interest in something, it’s well, a passing like. Takes a couple of seconds and that’s it.

This leads on to something important for that politics and the general societal doing of things. There’s an element of current thinking which says that a lot of Facebook likes, or a large petition, should be counted as important. As, say, a proper paper based petition would have been decades back. A reflection of a true irruption perhaps. But that cheapness, the liberality with which people spread such likes or online signatures around, means we shouldn’t be placing that importance on these things at all.

It’s thus even more important that we place greater weight upon revealed preferences, what do people actually do, instead of what they find extraordinarily cheap to say as a method of virtue signalling.

This is not, by the way, to pick out Black Lives Matter in this larger point. It is though to say that for many of the things which are thrown at us using the justification of this or that piece of social media, it’s simply not true that millions are concerned. Or not concerned very much at least. Looking at actual behaviour shows that most don’t give the proverbial flying. That’s the bit we should be considering as important, not some fleeting interaction with the Zuckerberg Factory.